Friday, 25 May 2012

Commemorating 1916

The time is closing in until 2016, when every TD and councillor will be shouldering onto platforms to claim allegiance to the flag. Will we then have a proud tourist trail where schools and visiting foreigners and Dubliners and country folk can proudly walk the battlefield where the brave men and women of the Rising fought?
If we want to do it, we'd want to get on our bikes; there's only three-and-a-half years to turn the dereliction of the streets around the GPO (almost the last site remaining of the founding battle of the War of Independence) from a slum into a heritage.
Up to now, we have commemorated 1916 in two ways: by tiny military parades, and by religious ceremonies. I'm not that wild about either, personally - though I love our Army and their butty, determined marching style.
The annual ceremony in memory of the leaders is in Arbour Hill. Here, at a military Mass, you can hear a slight grinding noise from the back of the church as the sermons go on (in English for the last few years; by bishops; sometimes taking the view "Well, it wasn't really a good idea, but they were all good people", to paraphrase), and the choirs sing hymns. This is my grandfather, Thomas MacDonagh, and James Connolly turning in their graves - neither was a fan of any church.
Formerly this was followed by a slow march to the graves, led by the President and army and relatives of the leaders; this year, I'm told, the politicians eagerly rushed forward and the relatives waited politely and fell in at the back.
The relatives of the 16 dead line up behind a function-style rope. The Last Post is played, the President lays a wreath; formerly there was an army gun salute over the graves (after which all small boys and most small girls rushed forwards to pick up the spent cartridges), but this stopped in the 1960s. More priests are wheeled out from different denominations to do some more praying over the helpless dead.
It's a moving ceremony, though I could do without all the priests and the praying; the Army run it beautifully.
The main ceremony, revived in the last couple of years, is in front of the GPO. Here, where huge crowds line the streets, you may listen and hear the zeitgeist. Here, for instance, in the year when a Fianna Fail government of good old boys disastrously believed the lies of bankers and pledged our country's prosperity against payments to ethics-free gamblers, cold silence greeted each minister as he or she got out of the ministerial Merc and waddled over to the politicians' enclave, but when the President arrived there was a storm of cheering and clapping.
Here, with the relatives unwillingly roped off in a special section (after their bags being searched in case they might be smuggling in a revolution), the crowds listen as the Proclamation is read by a young Army officer at the front door of the GPO where PH Pearse read it in 1916, then erupt in cheering. The Army march by, their bands playing Step Together, to respectful and affectionate applause. There's a little fly-past. Again, the Last Post is played and the flag raised from half-mast; again, the President lays a wreath to the fallen. Amhrán na bhFíann is played, and the crowds roar into song, singing our national anthem.
And what of 2016? Will we do it like the French, whose elegant army uniforms include pleated skirts for the women soldiers, with the inner pleat red, so that there's a daring flash of scarlet at every step; whose dedication to their revolution is absolute, whose singing of the Marsellaise echoes with passion?
Or like the Americans, whose commemorations are a silent dance with every fold of the flag and every step of the Marines a choreographed semiotics of meaning?
If it were up to me, I'd have parades all over the country like St Patrick's Day in Dublin, a happy riot of inclusion, celebrating what we are and what we could be, with floats from Ireland and all over the world, dancing and drum majorettes and bands, and a joyous plan for the future.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Love it! the imagery is brilliant. Also love what the robot proofing has come up with - Editor is word in clear